Falcons must re-tool offense to catch the Panthers

When first-year Falcons coach Dan Quinn reconvenes the team Monday morning, he’ll present them with his plan for the rest of the season.

The Falcons limped into the bye week after back-to-back upsets at the hands of Tampa Bay and San Francisco. Despite the apparent need to fine tune some things, they were given the week off.

Quinn’s challenge is get the Falcons playing as they did when they opened the season with five consecutive wins. Since losing 31-21 in New Orleans on Oct. 15, the offense has been in disarray, there was a rash of penalties and turnovers that marred their efforts. The highlight of the past four games was 10-7 win Oct. 25 over Tennessee and backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Quinn believes that the Falcons can recapture their early play that enabled them to open the season with thrilling victories over Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Dallas and Washington. They also routed the Houston Texans.

During the backslide, several issues have surfaced for the Falcons. Some of them may be manageable for Quinn and his staff. Others may just be the stark cold reality.

The Falcons may be able to fix their issues on offense, however, the lack of a pass rush, despite the team spending massive resources in the area, may just not be that good. They have 10 sacks, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

So, the winning formula — with the Falcons three games behind Carolina in the NFC South with seven games to play if the Panthers beat Tennessee on Sunday — may be to crank the offense back to where it was when it averaged 33.5 points over the first five games. The offense has grown stagnant and has averaged only 16.7 points over the past four games.

Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones met after the San Francisco game Sunday and shared some ideas on how to get the offense rolling. Ryan stayed back while others went on bye-week vacations.

Ryan looked at every pass play from this season and analyzed them. He’ll share his report with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

In addition to playing faster, running more no-huddle and getting White more involved, Ryan believes the players must elevate their play and execute Shanahan’s final game plan. He believes the offense can get back on track.

“We feel like we can be a very good offense,” Ryan said on his weekly appearance on 680 The Fan. “We haven’t been that (over) the last couple of weeks. There are a number of different reasons for it. But I feel like the talent is there. Our production can be there if we play better than we have. But we’re certainly capable of doing it because we have done it earlier this year.”

One theory is that when teams saw the Falcons on tape, they solved the team’s new scheme. There’s some merit in that because the wide open receivers we saw over the first five games are now blanketed. The 49ers knew how to attack the outside zone scheme and held running back Devonta Freeman to 12 yards on 12 carries.

Several players floated this notion that teams have figured out the offense and there must be some counter moves.

“I think that comes from guys just being frustrated with not getting the job done,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a lot of competitive guys in our locker room. From them figuring us out, sometimes you have to tip your hat to the defense that you go against. (San Francisco) outplayed us. They played better than we did. That’s what it comes down to.”

Despite the challenges, Ryan remains upbeat.

“You have to be positive,” he said. “We’re nine games into it. We’re right in the mix. We are right where we want to be. You’d love to have a couple more wins under your belt, but we didn’t get that done.”

One of the perplexing parts of the offense over the first nine games has been the under-utilization of White, who’s averaged 78.3 catches over the past three seasons since Jones has taken over as the top receiver. White, a three-time Pro Bowl player who turned 34 this month, has 17 catches on 30 targets. He has essentially been the fourth option.

Ryan said the team has preferred some of the other matchups and have featured those whether it was wide receiver Leonard Hankerson early or tight end Jacob Tamme of late.

“Certainly, we’d love to have Roddy more involved,” Ryan said. “I really think he’s going to be productive for us the rest of the season.”

The Falcons must be careful about trying to play faster. They could pick up the tempo, get stuffed and leave the defense out on the field too often.

“I’d like to see us play better,” Ryan said. “Whether that’s faster or what, we have to adjust. Everybody is willing to do that. We just need to play better than we have.”

Quinn is open to using more of the Falcons’ no-huddle attack. Ryan has operated the no-huddle since his rookie season.

“We’ll definitely look into that,” Quinn said. “We’ve got a big playbook. We have a lot of volume and our no-huddle package is certainly something that, when it’s the right time to feature it, we certainly will.”

Quinn didn’t seem to mind the players meeting to discuss the offense’s woes. He wouldn’t acknowledge if there were any more discussions with the coaches on the plane ride home from Santa Clara, Calif.

“Those guys are really close,” Quinn said. “So, for those guys to have a summit meeting, that’s pretty much every week. I do know this, we have some terrific competitors.”

The Falcons could benefit from the return of strong safety William Moore (groin), linebacker Justin Durant (calf), cornerback Robert Alford (hamstring) and Hankerson (hamstring). All were working with the training staff before the San Francisco game and that’s last step before return to practice.

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